Sunday, November 30, 2008

Fire insurance marks, privatization and being careful which savior you wish for.

Welcome to the jungle, Matt.

New Albany fire chief wonders what no overtime in 2009 will bring, by Daniel Suddeath (News and Tribune).

The City Council passed it, now New Albany Fire Department Chief Matt Juliot has to live with it.

No money is appropriated for overtime pay in the department beginning Jan. 1, the result of budget cuts approved by the council …

… Juliot said losing the option of overtime may mean cutting service.

“At this point in time, I don’t know what else to do,” he said.

I don’t, either, but perhaps it’s time to humor the Kool-Aid drinkers in the Norquist camp and privatize the lot -- a complete and all-encompassing imposition of user fees on all the services people expect from government but wish not to pay for ... if by "paying" we mean taxes, and running the insulting risk that my money might be used by someone I don't like very much.

Never mind that the reverse might be true. Hypocrisy needn't make sense.

It’s even worse now owing to the economic malaise, but even in better times, we've seen voters pleading poverty, both in terms of cash and in the larger sense of communal insensibility, and opting for devotion to candidates like 3rd district councilman Steve Price, who vows to drown all government in the bathtub, and whose legislative agenda achieves the desired end of starving local authority of the resources to function – all in the name of the downtrodden, who simply can't deal with reality without assistance.

The question remains whether Price and his ilk really are helping this segment of the population.

At any rate, because local government continues to be populated largely by elected officials whose ambitions are indiscernible from the ward heeler’s bare minimum, and who won’t or can’t comprehend the notion of supporting reasonable efforts to make the pie bigger for everyone through paying periodic attention to good ideas about economic development proposed by trained and educated pointy-heads who can't be trusted by people who don't customarily read past the funny pages, budget cuts are duly made amid a heroic cacophony of nickel-and-dime political grandstanding.

As correctly identified by Chief Juliot, the inevitable result of this endlessly corrosive cycle of mandated legislative impotence is the slashing of services, which leads us to that most delicious of junctures, as the people so loudly demanding ever smaller government now must explain the prioritizing of resources made necessary by their refusal to pay a few dollars more – and bitching until the cows come home when the ambulance doesn’t show up all time.

Have they considered the re-privatization of fire services, and the re-establishment of fire insurance marking? Wikipedia helpfully explains the way it used to be.
Fire Insurance Marks
Fire insurance marks were lead or copper plaques embossed with the sign of the insurance company, and placed on the front of the insured building as a guide to the insurance company's fire brigade. They are common in the older areas of Britain's and America's cities and larger towns. They were used on the eighteenth and nineteenth century in the days before municipal fire services were formed. The UK marks are called 'Fire insurance plaques' the first to use the mark was the Sun Fire Office before 1700.

American Fire Marks
Fire Insurance has over 200 years of history in America. Famous fires include the Chicago fire of 1871 and the San Francisco of 1906. The early fire marks of Benjamin Franklin's time can still be seen on some Philadelphia buildings as well as in other older American cities. Subscribers paid fire fighting companies in advance for fire protection and in exchange would receive a fire mark to attach to their building. The payments for the fire marks supported the fire fighting companies. If the protected building were to suffer a fire only their fire fighting company would attend the call to extinguish the fire. Even if competitor fire companies were closer to the fire they would not do anything to prevent further damage or extinguish the fire. This caused bad public relations for the fire mark system. Municipal and rural fire departments support by local taxation became a more logical solution.
Here and now, in the contemporary Norquistian era of rampant selfishness disguised as reasoned doctrine, and where no one wants to pay for anything except their half-dozen weekly trips to Wally World, it looks like we’re back to old way of doing things, Mafioso-cum-protection style, to wit:

Need a fire put out, or a cop to come take the gun away from your meth-crazed stepson? Well, we sure hope you're taken the necessary advance steps to procure service contracts and insurance. Otherwise, we can't help you ... and anyone who can remember what a civilized society resembled, you may wish to pack enough heat to keep the wolves at bay until the monthly check clears.

And guess who will be hurt the most by such a system of non-governance?

The very same downtrodden people who Steve Price says he’s trying to protect from the 21st century. In an irony-free zone, neither he nor they are likely ever to awaken and figure that part out.

The Economist: "Clearing up graffiti or littering promptly could help fight the spread of crime."

While others cling to their religion and guns, leaving observers unsure as to which poses the bigger threat to personal health and well-being, I persist in reading the British newspaper that accurately called the recent presidential election, which resulted in Barack Obama’s victory, and made it possible for Tribune guest local columnists to pretend they’re being satirical.

Criminology: Can the can, from the Nov. 20 print edition of The Economist.

The idea that graffiti-spraying and other forms of low-level delinquency promote further bad behaviour has now been tested experimentally.

A place that is covered in graffiti and festooned with rubbish makes people feel uneasy. And with good reason, according to a group of researchers in the Netherlands. Kees Keizer and his colleagues at the University of Groningen deliberately created such settings as a part of a series of experiments designed to discover if signs of vandalism, litter and low-level lawbreaking could change the way people behave. They found that they could, by a lot: doubling the number who are prepared to litter and steal.

The experiments are described in detail, leading to this conclusion:

“The message for policymakers and police officers is that clearing up graffiti or littering promptly could help fight the spread of crime.”

Think about this the next time you drive through one of New Albany's myriad slumlord protection districts, and consider another year's passage without meaningful reform amid the absence of money that might be devoted to police and fire protection, as well as pro-active efforts to enforce ordinances and keep the city's neighborhoods clean.

Let's do a photo essay on the C-J -- first view, the loading dock and garbage dumpster.

The Sunday editions of both the Tribune and the Courier-Journal provide good coverage of yesterday’s Holiday Fest in downtown New Albany, although kindly permit me to note that the “real” Saturnalia begins on December 12, and not downtown – yet.

See box at right and click on the illustration for complete details. Perhaps next year Saturnalia will run at multiple campuses, including 415 Bank Street … but I digress.

Given that the point of it all was to stage the annual celebration at various places scattered throughout downtown in an effort to draw attention to the revitalization effort, the C-J certainly didn't do the organizers any favors with its accompanying photograph.

Of all the more tasteful vistas that might have been incorporated into the piece -- perhaps one of the business recently opening downtown, as mentioned by Stefanie Griffith and Debbie Farmer of Develop New Albany in the text of the article itself -- the editor instead chose to give the reading public a prime view of the long-neglected Reisz furniture building, complete with its “metaled” up windows and a huge “for sale” sign.

Thanks, dude, although another way to look at it is if building owners treated their properties with respect instead of neglect over seemingly endless decades, some of that good karma might come flowing back to them.

Holiday Fest bigger, better in New Albany, text and photos by Christopher Hall.

The streets of downtown New Albany were a little busier than normal yesterday, as the city's bigger-than-normal Holiday Fest offered everything from Christmas trees for sale to a chili cook-off -- even before Santa showed up to switch on the city's Christmas lights.

Keeping an eye on Wally World at Wal-Mart Watch.

Now that I'm driving to work more days than not, the path to Plaza Drive takes me right past New Albany's branch of the evil retailing empire.

Luckily, there's WalMart Watch.


WAL-MART WATCH is a campaign working to make Wal-Mart a better employer, neighbor and corporate citizen. Use this site to learn more about our campaign, explore the issues or read why Wal-Mart needs to change.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Keep Louisville Weird's "Holiday Passport Contest."

It's "Black Friday," and from my buddy Mike Mays at Heine Brothers' Coffee, Inc. comes this reminder of holiday season priorities for the thoughtful shopper.

Naturally, in this context, New Albany and Louisville are interchangeable.


Louisville is a one-of-a kind city for a list of reasons. Our local, independent businesses sit high on that list.

In tough economic times, they could use your support. Click the link below to learn more about how shopping local can win you $1000. All Heine Brothers’ Coffee stores have contest envelopes.

Keep Louisville Weird Holiday Passport Contest

Please share this email with your friends and family.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Councilman Cappuccino submits bicentennial statue design.

Outraged that New Albany plans on staging a bicentennial celebration that doesn’t take into account his contribution to the city’s fabled Luddite history, the Wizard of Westside has submitted his own statue design to sculptor Guy Tedesco after reading about it in the Tribune.

"The newspaper didn't have all the information," said Cappuccino, who added, "It was the first I'd heard of it. We can't let professional sculptors decide which statues to design. That's the city council's job."

Davis Floyd sculpture proposed for New Albany bicentennial; Guy Tedesco will design statue if approved by city, by Daniel Suddeath (News and Tribune).

Sculptor and artist Guy Tedesco will begin designing a statue of Davis Floyd — a member of one of the original families to settle in the Falls of the Ohio region — to commemorate New Albany’s 2013 bicentennial. The Board of Public Works and Safety approved a contract with Tedesco on Tuesday. If approved by the City Council, the artist will complete a conceptual design of the statue by Jan. 31.

(That's right ... it's the Lenin statue from Seattle, Washington).

Holiday reading: Tax history as fashioned by wingnuts.

Turns out that there was time for relaxation after the painting was through. An article by David Sirota (recommended by Randy Smith) was good enough ...

The Tax History Conservatives Want Us to Forget

... but within the comments section there was a link to something even better:

Feast of the Wingnuts: How economic crackpots devoured American politics, by Jonathan Chait, The New Republic (September 10, 2007).

Follow the link for the whole piece, which is too lengthy to reprint in its entirety.
Like most crank doctrines, supplyside economics has at its core a central insight that does have a ring of plausibility. The government can't simply raise tax rates as high as it wants without some adverse consequences. And there have been periods in American history when, nearly any contemporary economist would agree, top tax rates were too high, such as the several decades after World War II. And there are justifiable conservative arguments to be made on behalf of reducing tax rates and government spending. But what sets the supply-siders apart from sensible economists is their sheer monomania. You could plausibly argue that, say, Reagan's tax cuts contributed around the margins to the economic growth of the 1980s. But the supply-siders believe that, if it were not for Reagan's tax cuts, the economic malaise of the late '70s would have continued indefinitely. They believe that economic history is a function of tax rates--they insisted that Bill Clinton's upper-bracket tax hike must cause a recession (whoops), and they believe that the present economy is a boom not merely enhanced but brought about by the Bush tax cuts.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The contrarian's Thanksgiving and Black Friday observances.

In the context of real American history, to the exclusion of mythology and wishful thinking, the holiday we term "Thanksgiving" is ironic, to say the least, and as noted here so often, Americans and irony generally maintain separate residences.

Each year around this time I like to play the role of thorn in the side of those Pollyannas among us who are prepared to give thanks for phenomenons like the slaughter of Native Americans and the doctrine of "manifest destiny" that eased the consciences of those pulling the trigger.

And, although my business probably will profit from the commencement of the shopping season on the day after Thanksgiving, it's always useful to lampoon the idea of consumerism as cardiovascular exercise and/or religious attainment.

Two postings from 2007 make the case. I gotta go paint. Unless Bluegill or the Highwayman have anything to say, we'll probably be taking the blogging day off tomorrow ... unless, of course, my annoyance level peaks. Don't forget: If you're shopping, shop local. Bentonville already has enough, don't you think?

Are they selling giftcards down at the 2 Horseshoe pole dancing emporium?

Black Friday, Part Two: “Literally millions of native peoples were slaughtered.”

Black Friday, Part One: "Any world that I'm welcome to ... is better than the one I come from."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Dare WE loiter on LOIT? (Part 1).

I’ve been striving for nearly a week to open a thread of discussion concerning the benefits as well as the costs of adopting a Local Option Income Tax.

The delay has been mostly due to confusion on my part as to what, how, and when of this option that Their Man Mitch so graciously left available to local government following his property tax reform initiative.

Never mind that such action has effectively hamstrung cities and counties around Indiana, while ensuring the state's budget is not only balanced but is able to show a surplus as well. But then that does look good on a resume if one’s political ambition is to descend on Washington, although I’m getting off point here.

So, to continue, not being satisfied neither with the explanations I’ve read in local newsprint nor heard from local politicos, I decided to go to online to the horse’s mouth, so to speak. What I quickly found was that as per most other research, one needs to know what to ask, how to ask, and whom to ask.

Having tried that approach there is still a modicum of confusion on my part, so I’m going to throw up what I’ve gleaned and open a discussion in the hope that clearer minds are out there to help clarify facts.

First of all my understanding is the LOIT option provides two primary benefits. The one being another 1% reduction in property tax that goes directly into the state's coiffures.

That fuels the first question: Does some portion of that one percent gain at the state level ever filter back down to the local level? If so, how & when?

The provision for a 0.25% Public Safety Tax looks to be self explanatory. These monies stay in the county to be used exclusively for funding additional police, fire & medical needs.

The third option is where I get confused. As I read the briefs this 1% option is billed as a Property Tax Replacement,” so now the question becomes: Does the word “replacement” mean that if a county adopts this option in conjunction with the above, they eliminate all property taxes and function on income tax revenue alone?

Or, does it indicate that adopting that option would merely result in yet another 1% reduction in one’s property taxes?

My position is if elimination of property taxes period is the goal and that is what the wording of the statute means we would be remiss in not taking advantage of the opportunity.

So now comes the argument that in doing so some will pay taxes and some won’t! To which I respond, “and your point is?”

Yet another source of confusion is the time frame in which a county must take action in order to reap the benefits of LOIT. I understand that there is a December 2008 deadline for adoption which brings forward these questions:

A) Must we adopt by this December or lose the option altogether?


B) Must we adopt by this December in order to receive the funds for use in 2009?


C) Does delaying until after the first of the year mean we won’t see them until 2010 or later?

There more questions to consider at the New Albany/Floyd County level, so Part 2 will be forthcoming.


Note: I've perused many sources but my best understanding thus far has come from this site:

Indiana's Local Income Taxes

Monday, November 24, 2008

Open thread: City council recap, 2008?

The Common Council of the city of New Albany began the year 2008 with four newly elected members, and high hopes in progressive quarters owing to the long overdue breakup of the body’s Gang of Four obstructionists, two of whom sadly remain on the ramparts, diligently guarding against improvement. However, the year has been profoundly disappointing to date, which leads me to my question for the day:

Readers, what are your views of the council’s performance during this challenging year?

And, as a subtext, what of council president Jeff Gahan’s record in the top chair?

Off the top of my head, here’s a non-comprehensive overview.

Redistricting was imperiously scotched, with collateral damage to the concept of rule of law, and meaningful ordinance enforcement was teased but ultimately soft-pedaled, as always. In short, no progress whatsoever in addressing the core issue of the city's unwillingness or inability to follow its own rules.

Providentially, novelty lighters were successfully banned, meaning that children living in unregulated, sub-standard housing must rely on old-fashioned matches to light oil lamps.

In a time of economic uncertainty, the council was faced with difficult and protracted budget negotiations, and responded to them by wasting precious weeks on an ill-considered smoking ordinance that served only to set the table for future political gamesmanship.

There has been a barely disguised backdrop of political maneuvering on the ultimate non-privatization of (what else?) the city’s sewers, and street and sanitation departments, and the concurrent shadow of Guido’s hand hovering over all of it.

While many of us earnestly hoped that CM Gahan’s most recent turn as president might facilitate communication with those elements in the community best suited to achieve something – anything – the reverse has rather surprsingly been the case.

Instead of emulating the open source Barack Obama, the president’s rare opaque signaling has more closely resembled Kim Jong Il’s codes, and while the nuts and bolts of council guidance are in better hands than when Slippery Larry reigned supreme, one can’t honestly confuse them for anything like leadership.

But maybe you disagree. If so, let me have it.

If you're reading, Even Deeper Throat, can you provide CM Gahan's version?

I have a busy next couple of days, so as the Highwayman continues work on his analysis of LOIT, let us know what you think about this year’s council record.

If I were the grading sort, I'd have it hovering around D+ or C-minus. If it weren't for John Gonder ...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Matt Taibbi: "A Requiem for John McCain," in Rolling Stone.

My first exposure to Matt Taibbi came from a book called, “The eXile: Sex, Drugs, and Libel in the New Russia,” which our on-line book discussion group tackled circa the year 2000. Here is what Publishers Weekly had to say about it.

In 1997, two American college-educated slackers began publishing the eXile, a no-holds-barred newspaper, in Moscow. The paper includes irreverent discussions of Russia's sex and drug scene and off-color humor pieces, such as an article poking fun at a U.S. African-American basketball player who was toiling for a Moscow team after he was kicked out of the NBA following a forced sodomy charge in the U.S. Their attitude toward Russia's expatriate community, including themselves, is clear: "Any affluent or even middle-class American who renounces the good life of sushi and 50-channel cable delivery" is "motivated by a highly destructive personality defect."

The pranks the newspaper plays are entertaining: convincing an aide to Mikhail Gorbachev that New York Jets football coach Bill Parcells wanted the former Soviet leader to give a series of inspirational pep talks to his team, for example. The eXile also takes on the herd mentality of reporters, managing to convince one of its rival papers that basketball hall-of-famer Wilt Chamberlain was considering a comeback in Russia. (In between its humor and its testosterone, the eXile has reported some important stories, most notably that much aid money from the U.S. went directly into the hands of some top Russian politicians.)

Only those with a National Lampoon mentality will enjoy the descriptions of the editors' sexual conquests and their comparisons of Russian and American women. Like much of the paper itself, the book, which recounts the newspaper's history, is tasteless. There's little doubt, however, that both incisively probe contemporary Russian reality--and the expatriate indset.

Wikipedia adds to the merriment:
Rolling Stone magazine said in 1998 that then-coeditors "Mark Ames and Matt Taibbi take the raw material of this decadent new Moscow and convert it into 25,000 instantly snapped-up issues of The eXile, consisting of misogynist rants, dumb pranks, insulting club listings and photos of blood-soaked corpses, all redeemed by political reporting that's read seriously not only in Moscow but also in Washington."
To be honest, I lost track of Taibbi’s writing for a number of years, and having ceased subscribing to Rolling Stone some time back, it wasn’t until the recent election campaign that I became aware of his work covering it. I still haven’t figured out how the subscription resumed without my paying for it.

Subsequently, I've been delighted to read Taibbi’s political essays. He grafts Hunter S. Thompson’s chemical-addled sneer atop the more urbane (and less overtly aggressive) analysis of mainstream journalists like Frank Rich of the New York Times, leaving me with yet another writing role model to absorb in small doses only, lest I subconsciously seek to emulate too obviously. It’s a quality I formerly admired in P.J. O’Rourke, at least until the ex-Lampooner dove completely off the deep end and abandoned pants-down Republicanism for the genuine non-ironic and fascistic article.

Like Thompson before him, Taibbi thrives in a habitat of surreal absurdity, and his descriptions of the waning daze of the doomed McCain/Palin bid for the nation’s highest offices are filled with sassy but deadly accurate imagery, as in this passage documenting the extent of the Arizona “maverick’s” sell-out to the dark side of the GOP (warning: the following contains brutally graphic figurative language):

In short, McCain entered this election season being the worst thing that anyone can be, in the eyes of the Rove-school Republicans: Different. Independent. His own man. He exited the campaign on his knees, all his dignity gone, having handed the White House to the hated liberals after spending the last months of the race with numb-nuts Sarah Palin on his arm and Karl Rove's cock in his mouth. Even if you wanted to vote for him, you didn't know who you were voting for. The old McCain? The new McCain? Neither? Both?
Seeing as surreal absurdity is also the order of the day in learning-impaired New Albany, it’s a shame we couldn’t bring Taibbi here for a brief time and turn him loose among the ward-heelers, rednecks, underachievers and Luddites. However, the results might hit too close to home, and after all, we’ve been documenting the Open Air Museum’s freaks and foibles for four years ourselves, dodging shrapnel when merited and beginning each and every day with a glance at the prices for one-way tickets out. It isn't a mere coincidence that "The eXile" stands as metaphor for the experience of leftists in New Albany.

Here are beginning and concluding passages from Taibbi’s piece on McCain, and the link to the whole story. Enjoy.

Matt Taibbi: A Requiem for John McCain

It sounds strange to say, but this election season may have done to the word "Republican" what 1972 did for the word "liberal": turned it into a poisonous sobriquet that no politician with bipartisan aspirations will ever again welcome. The Republicans didn't just break the party — they left it smashed into space dust. They weren't just beaten; the very idea of Republican conservatism was massively rejected in virtually every state where large chunks of the population do not believe in the literal existence of a horned devil, and even in some that do …

… When Obama took the stage in Grant Park as president-elect, that question was answered. We pulled off an amazing thing here, delivering on our society's most ancient promises, in front of a world that still largely thought of us as the home of Bull Connor's fire hose. This dumbed-down, degraded election process of ours has, in spite of itself and to my own extreme astonishment, brilliantly re-energized the American experiment and restored legitimacy to our status as the world's living symbol of individual freedom. We feel like ourselves again, and the floundering economy and our two stagnating wars now seem like mere logistical problems that will be overcome
sooner or later, instead of horrifying symptoms of inevitable empire-decline.

For this to happen, absolutely everything had to break right. And for that we will someday owe sincere thanks to John McCain, and Sarah Palin, and George W. Bush. They not only screwed it up, they screwed it up just right.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Sustainable City Series forum on adaptive reuse at the Glassworks, Dec. 4.

Don't forget that RSVPs are required to attend. Thanks to DC for reminding us. Here's the original text accompanying the poster.


I want to let you know that the seventh forum of the Sustainable City Series, ADAPTIVE REUSE, will be held on Thursday, December 4th beginning at 6:00 pm at Glassworks ( 815 W Market Street ).

Professional architect Carl Elefante has said, “the greenest building is the one already built.” This statement reflects the notion that as old buildings outlive their original purpose, the lifecycle costs, embodied energy; sustainable advantages of waste reduction, and the benefit of maintaining historic architecture in many cases make it more efficient and environmentally responsible to redevelop them. Adaptive reuse reduces sprawl, preserves neighborhood character and makes our city more sustainable.

The forum on December 4th will look at the benefits of reusing our existing buildings from large scale buildings like Glassworks and vacant big box stores (think Wal-Mart, Krogers, etc), to our older residential neighborhood homes. Please join us on December 4th for an engaging discussion on how we can make our city, region, and the world more sustainable.

Ramsi's Café on the World will be providing food for the event and coffee will be provided by Heine Brothers Coffee.

This event is free to the public, however space is limited, so if you or anyone else is interested please go here to RSVP and reserve your seat for the December 4th event.

Indiana COA "rules on ‘In God We Trust’ plate suit."

A little more than a month ago, we glanced at the license plate on that Hummer speeding down Spring Street and speculated aloud:

I wonder if Major Moves is paying the difference?

The Indiana Court of Appeals travels to Greencastle Oct. 14 to hear arguments in a case involving Indiana’s “In God We Trust” license plates.

As a follow-up, and again courtesy of Indiana Lawyer and M, here's the court ruling:
COA rules on ‘In God We Trust’ plate suit.

Not charging an administrative fee for Indiana’s “In Got We Trust” license plates doesn’t violate the state constitution, affirmed the Indiana Court of Appeals today in an unpublished decision.
Speaking personally, I'd still rather drivers turn off their cell phones, keep two sets of hands and eyes on the wheel and road, and not apply eyeliner while in motion rather than trust in God.

Then again, I'm just an atheist on a bicycle.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Council approves budget with little fanfare and no live adult entertainment.

The Highwayman attended last evening’s city council meeting and files this report. He begins by addressing a point referenced previously by the senior editor: Did he do it? Can they do it? Do it to us one more time?

Also from Thursday: Live adult entertainment ordinance: The words stir passions, but is foreplay enough?


Sad to say Dan Coffey said nary a word about this issue between gavels. However, I approached him prior to the meeting to confirm that such (a live adult entertainment ordinance) had been passed in 2001.

He replied in the affirmative, and I went on to inform him that rather than being enforced, it is firmly ensconced on the city attorney's desk awaiting a rewrite.

At that he shook his head and sighed.

As luck would have it, (city attorney) Shane Gibson was present, so I approached him to inquire as to the why's & wherefore's.

He responded that on review of the ordinance, it had been determined that in part, the fee schedule would not hold up in court, a conclusion based on similar attempts by surrounding communities that had previously failed to pass muster.

I passed that information along to CM Coffey after the meeting. His response was that it isn't the administration’s shot to call. Enforcement should be attempted, and if it fails, the council would then address it!

As for the rest of the meeting, the Mayor (oops! -- I mean Deputy Mayor) Malysz reported that based in part on the work of the council's committee on housing, the administration has a (another) plan in the works to deal with code enforcement.

He further stated that this plan would be revealed in the near future by Mayor England. No further details were offered.

Following that, the council buzzed right through the "Floyd County All Hazards Mitigation Plan", a variety of annexation & tax abatement resolutions and the Tourism Fund Revenue Bond.

Then came the real entertainment for the evening: Final passage of the 2009 budget.

There were three separate ordinances pertaining to 2009 salaries for various departments. Prior to the vote, all three of them were amended to reflect further cuts in dollars even though all departments had met the trimming request of the council since the last meeting.

After the amendments were passed 8-0, CM's Price and Zurschmiede still voted “no” on the final version. I suppose the cuts still weren't deep enough to satisfy them.

The one that still boggles the mind, however, is how the $6,800 that was trimmed from the city clerk’s budget ended up being added to the common council’s budget. The explanation I got from city controller Kay Garry was that the council had already trimmed $20,000 from their bottom line and needed the boost. I ain't buying it, but there it is.

It should be noted that the 5th District councilwoman was not present.


Editor's note: Courier-Journal coverage is here: New Albany council approves budget. For the record, the C-J records CM Price voting in favor of the budget.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Did he do it? Can they do it? Do it to us one more time?

Our informants have said that at a recent meeting to discuss progress toward the city’s master plan for riverfront development, 1st district councilman Dan Coffey informed those assembled that a new adult-oriented business had commenced operation in New Albany.

Tonight’s city council meeting began a few minutes ago, and obviously, I’m not in attendance. Since I have a hunch that Coffey will choose public official communication time tonight to reveal this factoid to the general public, I thought it would be courteous to allow him unfettered grandstanding time, which is why I’m waiting until now to note that the business in question appears to be located at the former Rustic Frog property by the river, just within the city limits west of the center.

It’s now called 2 Horseshoes (groan), and is being touted by its backers as a “gentleman’s club.” Based on the testimony passed on to me, it appears to fall well within the regulatory boundaries of the 7-year-old adult entertainment ordinance discussed earlier today in this space.

Live adult entertainment ordinance: The words stir passions, but is foreplay enough?

Whether any of this ultimately matters has yet to be determined. It appears that the ordinance itself is undergoing scrutiny by the city attorney – at this late date, all these years after it was written into law.

Don't get me wrong. I personally haven’t the slightest interest in business models like a pole dancing emporium, primarily because I know that tackiness is an intrinsic American phenomenon, and as such, incapable of being eradicated. Suckers are born every minute, and so are morons. But, to me, it’s just another example of the city’s own laws being selectively enforced, and to the detriment of efforts to pull this backwater out of the Dark Ages.

Just once, it would be nice to be proven wrong on this point.

Alas, we haven’t been. Perhaps ROCK can arrange a Biblical flood to achieve what mere mortals apparently cannot. Until then, hypocrisy remains the order of the day in NA.

Live adult entertainment ordinance: The words stir passions, but is foreplay enough?

Searching through the pages the other day, I was surprised to learn that the city of New Albany’s Code of Ordinances includes a very lengthy and exhaustive section dating from the year 2001 that defines “live” adult entertainment businesses.

It is fascinating reading, and details a licensing procedure for such “live adult” businesses and those employed therein, mandates the establishment of a 7-member Adult Entertainment Commission (AEC), creates an adult entertainment enforcement officer, and compiles a plethora of fines and penalties for non-compliance.

It’s far too much material to reprint here, but you can peruse if online for your amusement and edification here: CHAPTER 120: LIVE ADULT ENTERTAINMENT BUSINESSES.

My first thought upon stumbling across this incredibly precise legislative document was to immediately withdraw my twice yearly pleas for City Hall to resuscitate the moribund Human Rights Commission. Frankly, a gig with the Adult Entertainment Commission strikes me as far more educational, so gimme a seat, please. I promise to bring popcorn and suitable "adult" refreshments, and to bravely refuse all offers of bribes from the Mafia.

After all, without personal integrity, how might a commission member expect to correctly gauge the merits of matters like, “Any live performance that, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value”?

At least there’s no current reason to consider the non-enforcement of a live adult entertainment ordinance … right?

If there were, the first place to look would be the office of the Building Commissioner, where budding adult entertainment entrepreneurs are required by the city’s ordinance to file licensing paperwork and pay fees. Note that an individual can serve as licensed owner, licensed operator or licensed entertainer, but not two or even three at the same time. One job description to a person, sayeth the ordinance.

Note also that approval of the licensing for all these legally defined entities, which is an expensive undertaking requiring much cash in escrow prior to fees being collected, lies in the hands of the AEC, which is handed sufficient power to request further information and carefully vet aspiring applicants.

In short, installing a pole or two, buying a few dozen g-strings and a gross of pasties, and putting in a moist towelette dispenser don’t quite combine to feed the bulldog when it comes to adhering to the regulations written by the city council seven years ago.

The only question in this, as in other issues of ordinance enforcement, is whether the concept of obeying is uniform or selective. Is the live adult entertainment ordinance alive? Or, like so many other well-intended statutes on the city’s rule books, does it remain as lifeless as Generalissimo Francisco Franco?

If you’ll excuse me, I‘m off to do some research. Updates follow.


10:53 a.m. update: According to intrepid NAC reporter Gordy Gant, it would seem that in a startlingly pro-active turn, the adult entertainment ordinance signposted above already lies on city attorney Shane Gibson's desk for review owing to concerns raised over its constitutionality. Ironic, to say the least, but research continues, so stay tuned.

FEMA: Calamity contingencies for Cappuccino?

But what about the self-inflicted disasters?

New Albany City Council considers disaster grant plan, by Daniel Suddeath (News and Tribune).

The New Albany City Council will likely adopt a hazards mitigation plan Thursday aimed at cataloguing property value in case of a natural disaster.

It’s required of cities and counties by the Indiana Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to receive grants following a
calamity with widespread damage.

Officials say the plan will also reduce potential harm to residents and save taxpayer dollars. It has already been passed by Floyd County.
That’s all well and good, but it there a disaster contingency plan in place in the event that Councilman Cappuccino becomes president of the city council? Is there such a thing as insurance against political bungling? Probably not. If so, George W. Bush would have bankrupted the nation's insurers, too.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

In the interest of public trust: the Craig property, et al.

It's simple, really. People invest where they have confidence that their investment will pay off. Creating that confidence, then, is the lifeblood of economic or social success. Trust is necessary.

The same is true whether one is starting or taking a job at a company, purchasing a house or commercial building, or even campaigning or voting for a politician. There are risks involved in any of them, and buying in means assuming those risks. When the playing field is level and the rules clear, caveat emptor and may the best person win.

Lately, numerous new people have invested millions of dollars and ample time in our small city, in all the areas mentioned - housing, commercial buildings, businesses, and politicians. That's a good thing, as it shows they share the type of confidence implicit in making life changing decisions.

Many of us developed that confidence and made those decisions based on the idea that the rules in place to protect us - building codes, historic preservation guidelines, voting rights, etc., would be evenly enforced. We agreed to them, knowing that whatever limits were placed on us would be shared by others, creating a hopeful if difficult consistency. It's the essence of the social contract.

Well, so much for contracts.

Most are aware of the Market Street properties owned by Ron Craig. Defined mostly by the former auto dealership between Fourth and Fifth Streets, the American four square house on the site is recognizable without an address, owing to the junk cars that regularly populate the adjacent lot unabated. It sits in the Downtown Historic District, regulated by the same exterior rules that apply to my house and the properties of many others.

Of what most are probably unaware is the controversy in which the home is in engulfed. Its owner, Ron Craig, is aware of his property's historic status and the related rules. Mr. Craig, however, assumes those rules don't apply to him. Unfortunately, the City is proving him right.

Without so much as even applying for the Certificate of Appropriateness from the Historic Preservation Commission required by everyone doing exterior renovation in designated districts, Mr. Craig wrapped the place in gaudy white vinyl, covering up the homes architectural features and further degrading (to the extent possible, given his general neglect of the property) the streetscape that we all share and depend on to lend itself to our own investments.

When notified of the violation by the HPC, Mr. Craig's first response was to sue. Though not surprising given his general attitude, the suit was both troublesome and timely. Troublesome because of the lack of respect for the law, it was timely because of ongoing conversations between the HPC and the City's attorney, Shane Gibson.

That conversation had focused on the enforcement of several pending historic district cases, cases that involve clear violations of local law but that had not been followed up on through proper legal channels. The HPC was asked to suggest the four most prominent of those cases for further review and, if necessary, enforcement action. It seemed like potentially good news.

The conversation, however, quickly moved from the selection of four cases to the selection of one, as an example. Given the pending lawsuit and the obvious visual prominence of the property on a major thoroughfare, Craig's case was recommended.

With Craig's suit already in motion, it was the attorney Gibson's responsibility then to respond to the court with the City's position prior to deadline. He did not. The HPC reminded him. He still did not.

Eventually, the deadline passed. Having been denied the opportunity to even present arguments as an officially recognized city body, the HPC is currently monitoring the court docket, waiting for notification of the summary judgment that will be forthcoming without further intervention. HPC calls to Gibson pertaining to the case continue to go unreturned.

Given the zeal with which enforcement was promised to my neighborhood and others as a matter of creating the trust necessary for political investment into this administration, it's tempting to point fingers, call names, and otherwise frame recent events into an even more polarized us vs. them situation. For now, I won't do that.

What I will do is ask for an explanation, with the hope that it doesn't become a demand due to another lack of response. The system is clearly failing and will not be fixed in silence. Citizens have invested themselves and their money in the city and its current administration, but the confidence and trust necessary for that to continue is waning as the individuals on the other side of the contract ply their craft in relative isolation with little to no communication. With hundreds of dilapidated properties to contend with, City Hall is the one getting boarded up. That's not acceptable.

As a single broken but unrepaired window leads to more, a lack of windows into the process leads to vision unshared. If we can't see what's happening, we can't help.

We've been asked to trust you. How about trusting us every once in a while?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Gomer Pyle dictum: Profiles in (political) courage, or the random spinning of wheels.

Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about a reform. Those who are really in earnest must be willing to be anything or nothing in the world's estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out, avow their sympathy with despised and persecuted ideas and their advocates, and bear the consequences.
-- Susan B. Anthony

Yesterday morning in the Courier-Journal, reporter Dick Kaukas sought to plot the county council's discordant lurching back and forth as it considers a final vote on the Local Option Income tax (LOIT). Kaukas might have saved words (and trees) by simply publishing on-line video of a novice trying to learn how to drive a stick shift. I've emphasized one key paragraph.

Floyd briefly pauses on tax plan; Final council vote likely to be Dec. 9.

… For a while, however, the council considered putting off the (LOIT tax) until next year.

The tax, providing 1 percent for property-tax relief and 0.25 percent for police and firefighters, won preliminary approval Wednesday by a 4-3 vote with the council's four Democrats voting yes and the three Republicans opposed.

But Friday morning, council President Larry McAllister, one of the Democrats, said he and other council members had received so many calls from opponents that he decided to pull the ordinance from next month's agenda.

Instead, McAllister said, he was persuaded by arguments to wait until after the next General Assembly session before enacting anything.

"We're going to wait until after the first of the year," McAllister said, adding that the council could revisit the issue at that time. He said he checked with fellow council members and they were in agreement. The tax had been scheduled to take effect Jan. 1 if it passed.

The three other Democrats who voted for the tax -- Ted Heavrin, Tom Pickett and Carol Shope -- said they were willing to go along with the delay.

Besides, Heavrin said, because of pressure from opponents, "I'm not sure we'll have the votes" anyway, although none of the Democrats said they had changed their position.

Asked about the possibility that one of their number would defect, Shope said, "That would surprise me" …

… That's where things stood -- for about an hour.

Then Teresa Plaiss, the county auditor, said she checked with Ice Miller, an Indianapolis law firm that advises county governments, and was told that if the council didn't act by Dec. 31, it would not be able to consider an income tax until after April 1, and no tax revenue would come in until October.

McAllister said that convinced him the ordinance should stay on the Dec. 9 agenda.

Dana Fendley, a Republican council member who voted no, said McAllister's shifts indicated he was capitulating to pressure, first from police and firefighters who support the tax and then from callers who opposed it.

McAllister said he was trying to be responsive to callers, but then realized that a delayed vote would result in too long a wait for any new tax money.

As Gomer Pyle once said, "Surprise, surprise."

Apparently the result of all this caterwauling has been an unfortunate case of whiplash, at least in the case of one council member, Carol Shope. As Mrs. Baird posted last evening at her The Voice of the People blog, she who abstained in July with respect to the previous LOIT proposal and then voted "yes" in November will opt for "no" the next time around, achieving a trifecta of bullet-dodging completism previously attained by city councilman Dan Coffey, among others.


I saw Carol Shope tonight and she asked me to inform everyone I know that she will vote NO on the LOIT Tax at the December 9th County Council meeting.

If anyone reading can detect a pattern in these county council gyrations, can you please construct a flow chart so the rest of us can keep up?

Develop New Albany's e-mail list is a good way to keep up on downtown events and activities.

NAC makes every effort to keep its readers informed about goings-on in and around downtown New Albany, but it isn’t always possible to be exhaustive. The blog’s a part-time unpaid gig, and items of interest regularly slip through the cracks because we're too busy elsewhere.

As suggested to NAC by Debbie Farmer, president of Develop New Albany, there is another, steadily evolving way to place yourself somewhat within the downtown informational loop: The Develop New Albany e-mailing list.

Dan Neel of CyberTek administers the list, and he relays topical notices to list members as the information comes to him. Of course, no mechanism is perfect, but on busy weeks the bulletins can come almost daily. The Develop New Albany mailing list has grown quite large, and there is movement afoot to further develop these on-line tools into an expanded downtown news format. There’ll be more on that angle at another time.

For now, you can sign up at, or e-mail your request to be included on the list to

Develop New Albany asks for a name and phone number along with your e-mail address. You will not be contacted or solicited unless there is a bounce-back problem with your e-mail address.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Questions of history vs. decay ... or, will the real slumlords please rise?

For those still unaware, the Highwayman has joined the NAC team. Welcome aboard, Lloyd.


The sleepy little river city of New Albany, Indiana, which lies just across the river from Louisville, Kentucky, has a rich history dating back to the early 1800’s. In fact, in just a few short years she will be celebrating her 200th birthday.

She is a city of many modern innovations, such as the home of the first storefront plate glass manufacturer in America, the first store in the Woolworth’s Department Store chain to boast an in-store café, and many other such examples.

She is home to many historic structures, both residential and commercial, and there is a plethora of public and private entities that speak volumes about their preservation.

Various non-profit groups host a variety of street festivals annually to tour these structures and provide their histories to all who are interested.

The city's mayor, economic development staff and Historic Preservation Commission uses the presence of historic structues as selling points to entice business, industry, and home buyers to our community.

All of the above mentioned entities are constantly speaking to both residential and commercial property owners alike to restore these structures (or at least the outside façade of them) to acceptably near their original historic appearance.

So, why do we still see so much decay, and more specific to this query, why do we see it at all in property owned by the city itself?

As cases in point, the city of New Albany currently holds title to two formerly prominent downtown historic structures.

One is the Schrader Stables building on Main Street, that was acquired as a part of the Scribner Place land acquisition.

The other is the Baptist Tabernacle on 4th Street, which was bought in March of 2008 for the sum of around $90K with no specific purpose in mind at the time of the purchase.

The latter lost its roof along with whatever historic architectural features were left in the interior as a result of Hurricane Ike's early September winds.

The former has a collapsing roof in the rear that is allowing water to flow in freely with each rainstorm.

To date both the city council and the administration of New Albany apparently have chosen to do nothing to preserve either of these from further damage by the elements, even though they are allegedly covered by the city’s insurance.

So, could this possibly explain the lack of building code enforcement in our community?

Is it possible that those elected and appointed officials fear declaring war on slumlords and abandoned property owners, as they may by default implicate themselves as such?

Is it possible that the historic preservationists, although quite willing to pursue private property owners who dare to ignore the rules in historic districts, are reluctant to bite the hands that feeds them in the public sector when they do so?

Is this really the image we want to present to the world, not only for New Albany’s upcoming bicentennial, but for potential future investment as well?

Didn't I hear somewhere that leadership by example was a good thing?

You have the floor.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Economist: "Republicanism’s anti-intellectual turn is devastating for its future."

Sunday mornings are a fine time to catch up on the previous week's reading, such as this insightful column that will not be read aloud on FOX.


Lexington: Ship of fools
(Nov. 13th, 2008 ... from The Economist print edition)

Political parties die from the head down

JOHN STUART MILL once dismissed the British Conservative Party as the stupid party. Today the Conservative Party is run by Oxford-educated high-fliers who have been busy reinventing conservatism for a new era. As Lexington sees it, the title of the “stupid party” now belongs to the Tories’ transatlantic cousins, the Republicans.

There are any number of reasons for the Republican Party’s defeat on November 4th. But high on the list is the fact that the party lost the battle for brains. Barack Obama won college graduates by two points, a group that George Bush won by six points four years ago. He won voters with postgraduate degrees by 18 points. And he won voters with a household income of more than $200,000—many of whom will get thumped by his tax increases—by six points. John McCain did best among uneducated voters in Appalachia and the South.

The Republicans lost the battle of ideas even more comprehensively than they lost the battle for educated votes, marching into the election armed with nothing more than slogans. Energy? Just drill, baby, drill. Global warming? Crack a joke about Ozone Al. Immigration? Send the bums home. Torture and Guantánamo? Wear a T-shirt saying you would rather be water-boarding. Ha ha. During the primary debates, three out of ten Republican candidates admitted that they did not believe in evolution.

The Republican Party’s divorce from the intelligentsia has been a while in the making. The born-again Mr Bush preferred listening to his “heart” rather than his “head”. He also filled the government with incompetent toadies like Michael “heck-of-a-job” Brown, who bungled the response to Hurricane Katrina. Mr McCain, once the chattering classes’ favourite Republican, refused to grapple with the intricacies of the financial meltdown, preferring instead to look for cartoonish villains. And in a desperate attempt to serve boob bait to Bubba, he appointed Sarah Palin to his ticket, a woman who took five years to get a degree in journalism, and who was apparently unaware of some of the most rudimentary facts about international politics.

Republicanism’s anti-intellectual turn is devastating for its future. The party’s electoral success from 1980 onwards was driven by its ability to link brains with brawn. The conservative intelligentsia not only helped to craft a message that resonated with working-class Democrats, a message that emphasised entrepreneurialism, law and order, and American pride. It also provided the party with a sweeping policy agenda. The party’s loss of brains leaves it rudderless, without a compelling agenda.

This is happening at a time when the American population is becoming more educated. More than a quarter of Americans now have university degrees. Twenty per cent of households earn more than $100,000 a year, up from 16% in 1996. Mark Penn, a Democratic pollster, notes that 69% call themselves “professionals”. McKinsey, a management consultancy, argues that the number of jobs requiring “tacit” intellectual skills has increased three times as fast as employment in general. The Republican Party’s current “redneck strategy” will leave it appealing to a shrinking and backward-looking portion of the electorate.

Why is this happening? One reason is that conservative brawn has lost patience with brains of all kinds, conservative or liberal. Many conservatives—particularly lower-income ones—are consumed with elemental fury about everything from immigration to liberal do-gooders. They take their opinions from talk-radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and the deeply unsubtle Sean Hannity. And they regard Mrs Palin’s apparent ignorance not as a problem but as a badge of honour.

Another reason is the degeneracy of the conservative intelligentsia itself, a modern-day version of the 1970s liberals it arose to do battle with: trapped in an ideological cocoon, defined by its outer fringes, ruled by dynasties and incapable of adjusting to a changed world. The movement has little to say about today’s pressing problems, such as global warming and the debacle in Iraq, and expends too much of its energy on xenophobia, homophobia and opposing stem-cell research.

Conservative intellectuals are also engaged in their own version of what Julian Benda dubbed la trahison des clercs, the treason of the learned. They have fallen into constructing cartoon images of “real Americans”, with their “volkish” wisdom and charming habit of dropping their “g”s. Mrs Palin was invented as a national political force by Beltway journalists from the Weekly Standard and the National Review who met her when they were on luxury cruises around Alaska, and then noisily championed her cause.

Time for reflection
How likely is it that the Republican Party will come to its senses? There are glimmers of hope. Business conservatives worry that the party has lost the business vote. Moderates complain that the Republicans are becoming the party of “white-trash pride”. Anonymous McCain aides complain that Mrs Palin was a campaign-destroying “whack job”. One of the most encouraging signs is the support for giving the chairmanship of the Republican Party to John Sununu, a sensible and clever man who has the added advantage of coming from the north-east (he lost his New Hampshire Senate seat on November 4th).

But the odds in favour of an imminent renaissance look long. Many conservatives continue to think they lost because they were not conservative or populist enough—Mr McCain, after all, was an amnesty-loving green who refused to make an issue out of Mr Obama’s associations with Jeremiah Wright. Richard Weaver, one of the founders of modern conservatism, once wrote a book entitled “Ideas have Consequences”; unfortunately, too many Republicans are still refusing to acknowledge that idiocy has consequences, too.

Freedom to Screech's attack on the YMCA: A sewer runs through her.

In pursuing the perpetually challenging act of wrapping the arms of an unfortunate gnat around the microscopic phenomenon known locally as Freedom to Screech (Yellow), it helps to know that the blog’s trognonymous and comically transgendered poseur has never permitted comments, thus conveniently putting the lie to any notion of interest in anything approximating an exchange of ideas.

Consequently, I can’t answer her questions there (YMCA), so I’ll do so here.

Did the YMCA give away FREE BEER at the recent reception?

No, the YMCA didn’t. I did. Strictly speaking, I served New Albanian Brewing Company beer that had been purchased by a private citizen who wished to donate it to the reception. Cognizant of my professional responsibilities, I actually “carded” one person who looked too young. He was 25. Roughly 75 cups of beer were poured for a crowd estimated at 400 people, but of course, there also was local wine being given away, too – and this is something Erika’s informants (a former councilman and his wife, no doubt) presumably failed to note, unless they feel that the Bible permits wine at health and fitness facilities but frowns on beer, in which case they’d have to explain what the Bible has to do with any of it.

Who approved (the) beer bar to be set up at the YMCA?

Judging from the numerous officials who thanked me for bringing the beer, I’m guessing that the YMCA’s management approved the arrangement. No one expressed dismay or asked me to leave, for the possible reason that adults who made the YMCA possible attended the reception without wearing paper sacks over their heads like Erika does on a daily blogging basis. Wouldn’t phoning the YMCA and asking be the best way for the blogger to know who approved the beer?

Alas, just like her perpetually unquestioning council idols, Dan Coffey and Steve Price, Erika knows that innuendo and grandstanding presumably are more likely to scratch an adolescent oppositionist itch than asking the proper person and learning the correct answer. Coffey’s dysfunctional, but at least he doesn’t hide behind a mask.

What image is this for our children and teenagers?

If by “image” Erika is referring to her own anonymity, the presence at the reception of anti-YMCA activist and former councilman Bill Schmidt, and the churlish behavior of former council kingpin Larry Kochert, who also attended in spite of his strident opposition to the project, then yes, each of them is a pretty bad image, indeed.

Looking at it another way, since it’s unlikely that Kochert will ever set foot again inside a building that by its very existence provides abundant refutation of his tragicomic and underachieving council career … I suppose it’s a wash in terms of imagery. King Larry’s rotten example to the youthful populace is erased by the good one offered in the form of the YMCA, and the city finally escapes a ruinous legacy of ward heeling at the expense of the commonweal.

"Kids, come on down to the YMCA. Swim, workout and have a BEER."

As for “kids,” surely Erika knows that it is illegal to serve minors watery Bud Light, much less the real beer produced at NABC. As for installing a bar with alcoholic beverages in a health and fitness facility, it certainly would be a very European thing to do. Alas, New Albany isn’t remotely European, even if at times the squalor and ignorance bears a striking resemblance to Old Albania, and every attempt to do something about is opposed by the likes of Erika.

Is the YMCA going to apply for a "Downtown Beer License" to set up their BAR?

Probably not, seeing as there’s no such thing as a “downtown beer license,” but hey – facts are a minor impediment to senseless verbiage, right? If they weren’t, Erika wouldn’t have a blogging “career.”

Does their title really mean ... "Young Men's Christian Association?"

According to Wikipedia, it does. Congrats, Erika. You finally got one right. I’ll tune in next year at this time and see if Freedom to Screech and the stopped clock have once again magically coincided.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

New Albany's YMCA as metaphor: 3 + 1 = wannabeen.

On Friday, I posted a treatise on the nature and practice of shameless hypocrisy, as personified by former city councilman Larry Kochert. Here's a portrait of the con artist as a not-quite-housebroken old man.

Predictably, not unlike a knee-panted, snot-clogged child on the playground, Larry Kochert simply couldn’t resist stepping across the chalk line after being told that by doing so, he would emerge as a buffoon, and so there he was, giggling at his perceived rambunctiousness, approaching me not once, not twice, but three times to toss adolescent jibes – and in the process, well, emerging as a buffoon, and in the process proving the veracity of everything written about him in this space since we had the temerity to begin chronicling Kochert’s abject political futility at the dawn of his mercifully final term in orifice.
Earlier today, reader ecology warrior stirred the pot, observing:

I spoke to the source and he said it was 4 times he taunted you, not three.

Hmm. Perhaps I paused to gauge the size of the crowd and missed one of Kochert's outbreaks of flaccid faltulence. Since I make no firm claims to advanced mathematical aptitude, bear with me while I dope it out.

If, by his own admission, King Larry taunted me four times rather than three, does this mean that he is 25% more childish than previously thought?

Inquiring minds want to know. At least we can be sure that he remains 100% gone from the council, and for that the city breathes a huge sigh of relief.

Smoking cigars on the porch while it rains, with black coffee and very few regrets.

My friend John Freyer, the regional representative of the innovative Dogfish Head craft brewery in Delaware, was in town last night for a hootenanny, which is a fun way of describing a vertical Dogfish ale tasting jazzed up with a chilled buffet of Thanksgiving-style “leftovers” and accompanied by a bit of education and an evening’s conviviality.

Not only is John a craft beer business veteran and someone who’s been through all the madness that we’ll be experiencing when NABC’s downtown production brewery opens (bankers, if you’re reading and have cash to lend, call me immediately), but he’s also a diehard baseball fan who has co-authored books on our favorite game. After the hootenanny, we chewed the fat at the bar and vowed to collaborate on a baseball & beer companion. It was a blast.

I’m fortunate to make a living from my lifelong hobby of drinking beer, preferably in my natural habitat, the pub. Yes, it’s a business, and we need to make a profit to survive. But, at the end of the day, intangibles matter more to me. Being in a position to bring people like John to New Albany, and to have people come from miles around to sample beers and share knowledge, is what keeps me coming back for more, and helps me to tolerate the throbbing in my knees this a.m.

Of course, there’s a valid point to be made with respect to my attention to detail when it comes to money, in the sense that if I ran a tighter ship both personally and professionally, there’d be more lucre left over for the Confidentials. Truthfully, it doesn’t bother me, because I’d rather be good at what I do, and what I do is teaching and memory creation. Legacies don’t have to be built on wealth, even when they’re accruing from a for-profit business.

None of us will be taking it with us.

Legacies in my line of work are about doing what you can, while you can, as best you can, and creating memories that are impervious to calculations of interest and percentages. If twenty years from now, someone smiles because they recall good times at the pub, then that’s the best return of all on our investment. In all honesty, I can’t say that I give a damn about the money beyond what it takes to survive. You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes … well, you know the rest of the Jagger/Richards axiom, don’t you?

NABC’s annual celebration of winter seasonal and holiday draft from America and the world begins on December 12. It’s my favorite festival of all the ones we stage and attend every year, primarily because so many people I haven’t seen in a while come back for the holidays, and these beers provide the festive accompaniment to the joys of reconnecting with old pals, sharing the war stories, and remembering the ones who no longer are with us. It was a bad year in the sense of losses, and I’m carrying a grudge against the Grim Reaper, but tomorrow’s another day, and the forthcoming year another year. You do your best, and keep fighting.

Here are the links to Saturnalia information posted at my other blog.

American micro draft lineup, descriptions, links for Saturnalia Winter Solstice MMVIII (begins December 12).

Imported draft lineup, descriptions, links for Saturnalia Winter Solstice MMVIII (begins December 12).

Saturnalia explained: Festive draft beers for the winter solstice, coming December 12.

Roger's believe-it-or-not: Saturnalia's planned and ready, a full month ahead of opening night.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Let’s take a look at the Gang of Four’s scorecard from last evening’s opening reception at the YMCA.

(If you’re a friend of The King, you may wish to turn to the funny pages.)

Wait a minute … on second thought, the former councilman is the funny pages, though only if unintentional bathos counts as humor. It certainly worked for George W. Bush.

The YMCA's coming, and the Gang of Four should be denied invitations to the party.

The senior editor of NAC says: "It took almost three years before that to convince the Gang of Four to endorse the check handed to the city by Caesar's (now Horseshoe) Foundation!"

I wonder if the Schmidts, arch-opponents of Scribner Place, will be there Thursday for the donor reception? King Larry? The Conjoined Councilmen (Coffey and Price)?

The Tribune should commission McGloshen to take their pictures if any of them dare to attend. Wretched councilmen are a New Albanian birthwrong, but bad actors?

Councilmen Dan Coffey and Steve Price didn’t crash the gate. Give Coffey full credit for avoiding flagrant hypocrisy, but Price is penalized for insisting in a Tribune story yesterday that he was never opposed to the YMCA:

“A lot of people said I was anti-YMCA, which was never the case.”

Price may not know the meaning of “revisionism” and “semantics,” but he knows how to indulge in verbal games featuring them. Deeds, not words, are the determining factor. Price wasn’t "anti-YMCA", mind you. He just objected to every conceivable funding mechanism to make the Y a reality, all in the name of a benumbed cultural purity that might be summarized as, “New Albany for the dunderheaded, now and always.”

Meanwhile, former council ward heeler Slippery Larry Kochert breezed into the reception just after the doors opened and immediately thanked NA Confidential’s senior editor for the impetus to attend. It turns out that The King reads, after all, even if it always seemed like his primal reaction to books would be to search frantically for a blazing fireplace.

Predictably, not unlike a knee-panted, snot-clogged child on the playground, Larry Kochert simply couldn’t resist stepping across the chalk line after being told that by doing so, he would emerge as a buffoon, and so there he was, giggling at his perceived rambunctiousness, approaching me not once, not twice, but three times to toss adolescent jibes – and in the process, well, emerging as a buffoon, and in the process proving the veracity of everything written about him in this space since we had the temerity to begin chronicling Kochert’s abject political futility at the dawn of his mercifully final term in orifice.

All this from a fellow who’s pushing seventy, and yet as undignified and hypocritical as Kochert can be on occasions like the Y’s party, one is obliged to concede his remarkable consistency in maintaining a certain impotence of accomplishment at all times and all places. Whether formerly seated in the council’s president chair unlashing venom against imagined county enemies or supporting the Republican candidate for his seat against a fellow Democrat, Kochert surely never relinquishes his persona as living, breathing personification of everything wrong with local politics.

In fact, coming to the Y to absorb even a slight measure of credit for something he played absolutely no part in achieving comes perilously close to summarizing Kochert’s ineffectual, self-aggrandizing “career” in local affairs. The senior editor is open to correction, but other than graciously offering to hold elections in his own garage, thus giving an appropriate banana republic sheen to the process, did Kochert ever accomplish anything of lasting merit during his multiple terms in office beyond articulating the unprincipled pique of same-aged know-nothings who got just enough of theirs to cease giving a damn whether anyone else might ever have the chance to get some of theirs?

Former councilman Bill Schmidt was there last night, too, and on the second of Kochert’s stroll-by tauntings, The King brought Schmidt along for the ride, perhaps in observance of the timeless dictum of, “Double your hypocrisy, double your fun.”

The latter smiled weakly and seemed confused by the charade. You’d think that would be enough to embarrass Kochert, but it wasn’t.

That’s the final nail in the Gang of Four’s pettiness-riddled coffin, don’t you think?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

REWIND ... From Norquist to Torquemada to Brambleberry: Pathologies of tax "reform."

This piece is the second of two being republished today, and it goes out to our community's "small government" adherents. It was originally published on August 13, 2006, and has reappeared from time to time when I feel like taunting the exurbs.

Here's the other: REWIND: Bile, loathing and a civil society.


Grover Norquist, who famously seeks to reduce government to a size that can be conveniently drowned in William Howard Taft’s supersized bathtub, and who once compared the morality of the estate tax to that of the Holocaust, founded the Americans for Tax Reform organization during the administration of President Ronald Reagan.

If the sum of words written about ATR since that time were calculated in dollars, it probably would be equivalent to several times Bill Gates’s elongated fortune, but it seems to me that the organization’s own oft-repeated credo should suffice to tell us most of what we need to know about it.

“ATR opposes all tax increases as a matter of principle.”

Speaking personally, I interpret this as the fervent desire to take a blue pencil to the Constitution, substituting “I the individual” for “we the people.”

And I find it unacceptable in a civil society. In fact, I oppose ATR as a matter of principle.


Turning to the dictionary …

pa·thol·o·gyn. pl. pa·thol·o·gies

1. The scientific study of the nature of disease and its causes, processes, development, and consequences. Also called pathobiology.

2. The anatomic or functional manifestations of a disease: the pathology of cancer.

3. A departure or deviation from a normal condition: “Neighborhoods plagued by a self-perpetuating pathology of joblessness, welfare dependency, crime” (Time).


What, then, is the pathology of tax reform?

What is it that leads to the single-minded obsession, to the snarling condescension, and to the anti-communal narcissism so obviously inherent in the genre?

Finding an answer is important to me, because I’ve decided that I’m a taxpayer advocate, too, and furthermore, I’m no longer willing to permit my “anti-everything” crusading brethren to define the terms of taxpayer advocacy without a struggle.

Of course none of us actively seeks to pay more tax than we feel is justified, but apparently we differ significantly with regard to the tipping point that compels us to paint our faces, converge on Boston harbor to dump tea into the drink, and vote for Norquist-sanctioned candidates.

Moreover, I believe that taxation is not something that can be defined in the numerological sense – in dry, neutral, technocratic terms, although economists undoubtedly try their best.

Rather, it’s an intrinsically political issue with implications pertaining to power and financial decision-making that are pursued not in a detached laboratory, but in the real world of human society. One’s views on taxation undoubtedly bear a close relationship to one’s views on politics, society and even religion.

Although I’ve no intention of contesting that Norquist and his ATR claim allegiance from people across the political spectrum, it remains the case that the hardest core of the movement’s hardcore support comes from self-identified conservatives … and if one stalks the dark corridors of the right wing with a consistently stated aim of starving a “beast” into submission, it logically follows that this beastly straw man targeted in the anti-tax crosshairs stands somewhere to the left.

After all, if the beast is not an “enemy,” then why bother starving it in the first place?

Moreover, most people don’t propose to kill their own – only the “others.”


I believe that the existence of people living and working together in the evolving construct of human society is a state of being implicit in the art and practice of politics, which itself is necessary to negotiate matters of power, and insofar as we are human beings voluntarily living in communities with one another and deriving benefits from shared expenditures, I’m an unrepentant advocate of taxation as the necessary underpinning of a truly civil and functional society.

By writing these words in a public forum, I fully expect to be lashed by those local Torquemadas, particularly those of the Brambleberry “those who cannot do, prevent others from doing, too” persuasion, whose viewpoints with respect to strictly local taxes and fees mirrors the rabidity of Grover Norquist’s.

So be it. I simply don’t believe that our local government as presently constituted is a beast begging for euthanizing. Imperfect, perhaps, and as such reflecting the imperfections of its inhabitants and of the citizenry as a whole … but not a beast.

In fact, I believe it should be even more pervasive, and that we should pay our share to make it so.


Since you’ve asked, permit me to add that from my point of view, when Norquist’s hopping mad adherents speak specifically of taxation-related issues, I believe they’re actually speaking of just one component, albeit it vital, that ultimately is tied to the many planks of the conservative movement’s overall rightward march in America.

That zealous mission was elegantly summarized by the inimitable William Greider in a 2003 article in The Nation entitled “Rolling Back the 20th Century.”

Here are excerpts.

The movement's grand ambition--one can no longer say grandiose--is to roll back the twentieth century, quite literally. That is, defenestrate the federal government and reduce its scale and powers to a level well below what it was before the New Deal's centralization. With that accomplished, movement conservatives envision a restored society in which the prevailing values and power relationships resemble the America that existed around 1900, when William McKinley was President. Governing authority and resources are dispersed from Washington, returned to local levels and also to individuals and private institutions, most notably corporations and religious organizations. The primacy of private property rights is re-established over the shared public priorities expressed in government regulation. Above all, private wealth--both enterprises and individuals with higher incomes--are permanently insulated from the progressive claims of the graduated income tax.

These broad objectives may sound reactionary and destructive (in historical terms they are), but hard-right conservatives see themselves as liberating reformers, not destroyers, who are rescuing old American virtues of self-reliance and individual autonomy from the clutches of collective action and "statist" left-wingers. They do not expect any of these far-reaching goals to be fulfilled during Bush's tenure, but they do assume that history is on their side and that the next wave will come along soon (not an unreasonable expectation, given their great gains during the past thirty years). Right-wingers--who once seemed frothy and fratricidal--now understand that three steps forward, two steps back still adds up to forward progress. It's a long march, they say.

We all know the planks of the platform, as enumerated by Greider.

Gradually phase out the pension-fund retirement system as we know it.

Eliminate federal taxation of private capital, as the essential predicate for dismantling the progressive income tax.

Withdraw the federal government from a direct role in housing, healthcare, assistance to the poor and many other long-established social priorities.

Withdraw the federal government from a direct role in housing, healthcare, assistance to the poor and many other long-established social priorities.

Restore churches, families and private education to a more influential role in the nation's cultural life by giving them a significant new base of income--public money.

Strengthen the hand of business enterprise against burdensome regulatory obligations, especially environmental protection, by introducing voluntary goals and "market-driven" solutions.

Smash organized labor.


If this Federal beast is to be drowned, then there is no alternative to supporting a higher degree of decision making at local levels, but it should be obvious that starving the Federal “beast” translates directly and inescapably into starving ourselves, which in turn suggests that to some degree, we’ll have to pay more to maintain our standard of living, our infrastructure, and some semblance of a civil society, right here at home.

Speaking personally, I’d like to see this trend of beast eradication extended to my having the option to withhold federal tax revenue from wars that I believe to be unjust, illegal, or figments of George W. Bush’s restive imagination, but that improbability aside, how do we propose to pave and stripe the streets, keep the alleys clean, remunerate the police and fire departments, and perform the tasks that we take for granted as necessary components of local self-rule, when we simultaneously insist on voting for politicians who’ve consumed copious quantities of Norquist’s fascist Kool-Aid, and refuse to pay what it takes for local services when the same politician obeys his handler and denies us funding?

What are we supposed to do, beg funds from the local mega-church according to the principle of faith-based reverse Caesar – which I could have sworn was either a salad dressing or a pro wrestling hold?



I’m willing to pay my share to save my neighborhood and to ensure New Albany has a future. That’s more than can be said for the many “whatever it is, we’re against it” grandparents hereabouts, who continue to insist that Norquist’s starvation diet provides the perfect platform for the future interests of their grandchildren, something that is counterintuitive at best and purely insane at worst -- hence our bizarre and so characteristically New Albanian phenomenon of the Coup d’Geriatrique, an ongoing cabal conducted by so-called Democrats. It is directed not against Republicans, but deploys the Norquist playbook to savage the capable of all political and religious persuasions.

My 3rd District councilman – who insists against all prevailing evidence that he’s a Democrat, but whose right-wing pathologies are never hidden from view – is the prime example of this reaction against modernity even if he’s two decades younger than most other participants. Steve Price joyfully espouses the ATR party line, shrieking like a goosed banshee that errant nickels, misspent dimes and the perpetual tightening of belts will magically produce the revenue necessary to offset those monies being lost each time we gleefully vote for a pledged Norquistian, and incessantly associating the majority of governmental expenditures with frivolity and those aspects of human life with which he disagrees, misunderstands, detests and wishes to eradicate.


Progress, not regress. Progressive, not regressive. Forward, not backward.

That’s all I have to say on the matter, although there’s a chance that some of you will disagree.

Hit it ...

REWIND: Bile, loathing and a civil society.

The following, the first of two going out to our community's "small government" adherents, was originally published in April, 2006 under the title: Goodbye, Main Street Grind ... maybe in another 12 years, your view might have improved. Or not. It has been reprinted on several occasions since, because the topic a "civil society" remains of enduring significance for New Albany. I've omitted the photos that originally were attached, and apologize for those parts that seem dated. I'd prefer preserving the integrity of the original rather than edit.

See also: REWIND ... From Norquist to Torquemada to Brambleberry: Pathologies of tax "reform."


I learned over the weekend that New Albany’s Main Street Grind coffee shop plans to wind down operations at the beginning of April after 12 years in business.

That’s quite a run, and it’s a shame for it to end. The way you feel when you read an obituary -- that's the way a small business owner reacts to word that a fellow operator is folding up his tent. I look into the mirror, and say to myself: I'm still standing – at least for now ... but tomorrow may be very different.

Although we have mutual friends, I’m not well acquainted with the owners, who’ve always been hospitable and friendly during my infrequent visits.

Especially since moving into downtown in 2003, D and I have eagerly sought a “third place” to pass time near our home, but since our working hours are during the day and Main Street Grind’s hours were geared to lunchtime, it wasn’t possible to go as often as we’d have liked.

Yesterday I was corresponding with a friend and discussing the impending departure of the Main Street Grind, and she wrote:

I've been going to the Grind for 12 long years, and I've watched those buildings across the street from it decay for 12 long years and then some.

I've watched other businesses open in other parts of town, struggle and finally close because of the lack of leadership, vision and management in this city. It's sad, it's disgusting and who the hell do you blame when there are so many people responsible for the mess? City planners? Mayors? Develop New Albany? Building Commissioners?

Is there anybody in there?

Lamentable, but very true, although she omitted a key player: We the people – the residents of New Albany. "We" have just the sort of town "we" want, because if we didn't, would it be like this?

The inescapable conclusion is that "we've met the enemy ... "

You know the rest of Pogo's Axiom.

In the end, leadership is meaningless unless one consents to being led, and vision optional in the absence of a desire to clearly see.

Management? That’s merely an impediment to the profits to be accrued in the preferred vacuum of non-enforcement and apathy.

At the conclusion of the Communist era in Czechoslovakia, the dissident writer and playwright Vaclav Havel was elected president of the country that less than a year before had imprisoned him. Havel's government faced an exceedingly difficult necessity of finding ways to reverse four decades of economic stagnation brought about by the outmoded, state-owned economy, and doing so without societal chaos.

After all that time, the intrinsic absurdities of the command economy were evident, but people were accustomed to them. Suddenly, things had to change.

President Havel offered few concrete ideas as to how the government might retool his country’s uncompetitive economy. Instead, and significantly, he focused on what he perceived was necessary at a more fundamental and human level, something without which the economic reform program would have little chance of succeeding.

Havel theorized that the chief legacy of Communism was a degradation of the core of Czechoslovak society itself, and consequently, before economic rationalization could succeed, a “civil society” would have to be defined and rebuilt from the ground up.


As events of the past week have amply illustrated, Havel’s analysis applies foursquare to New Albany, and this is why events like the forthcoming neighborhoods forum are so important. Without a firm perimeter established in the places where we live, it is unlikely that citywide redemption can succeed.

Currently there are pockets of worthwhile activism scattered throughout the city, but owing to longstanding patterns of mistrust and a general lack of communication, there is no cooperation between them.

Unfortunately, there is an attitude of persecution and secrecy on the part of many who fear that communication and cooperation might somehow provide succor to the political enemy of this moment or the next – and this is profoundly shortsighted, although understandable in the present context of bile and loathing.

To be truthful, the beneficiaries of non-cooperation aren’t so much political in nature as they are social. Non-cooperation nurtures the same deleterious conditions of incivility and inertia within the same vacuum of unaccountability that we all claim to abhor and seek to terminate.

As my friend noted above, whom do you blame when there are so many to blame?

Vaclav Havel provides the answer: We must remove ourselves from the cycle of blame and get on with the process of building a civil society with a firm foundation that prefaces future progress.

New Albany is profoundly dysfunctional. We’ve all acquiesced in various and sundry ways in permitting the city to become dysfunctional. The only hope of reversing this dysfunction is to join together in a workable coalition that suspends partisan wrangling, concedes the immensity of the task, formulates sustainable strategies, and gets to work.

Money would help, too, but unity is far more important.

So, who among us wishes to abandon his or her laboriously crafted straw man first, and get on with the task of reconstituting New Albany’s lost civility?

Did I just hear another pin drop?